by Debbonnaire Kovacs
1 Kings 19:4-8
A pastor I know once gave me an entirely new look at this familiar story. It's the one of Elijah's depression after the great victory at Mt. Carmel. To recap: Elijah spends a day listening to the frenzied "praying" of Baal's priests, has an ancient altar rebuilt, finds 12 barrels of water (from where?? 3 year drought, remember?) and dumps them on the altar and sacrifice, prays quietly, watches fire from heaven destroy the sacrifice, the water, and the stones, kills (and/or supervises the killing of) 400 priests, prays for rain and gets it, runs 17 miles in front of a horse and chariot, receives a death threat . . . then runs into Judah and collapses. "Please, God, just let me die."
Do you know that feeling? I do.
Here's what I learned from my pastor friend:
The office of prophet is to be the voice of God to the people, and to be the voice of the people to God. Remember Abraham dickering over Sodom? Moses saying, "If you're going to kill them, kill me, but don't do it–you're a better God than that"?
Elijah has just hit a wall. He's burned out. He's not just tired, he's exhausted, out of gas. He has forgotten the rest of God's children and thinks he's the only one who is still faithful. It's one of the hazards of depression. The vision narrows down to just yourself. "Life is no longer worth living, God. Just let me go now."
God understands that, my pastor friend said. He doesn't judge or scold. In fact, he sends an angel to feed Elijah (which is even better than ravens and widows) and gives him the strength to go another 40 days and run some more miles. Then he talks to Elijah in person.
Shhh. Rest. I'm here.
But God also recognizes, as Elijah probably does not–almost certainly does not–that Elijah is done. He is used up. God relieves Elijah of duty.
"If you can no longer speak for the people to me, then you can no longer speak for me to the people. Go anoint two kings. Then find Elisha. Then retire."
I was startled. Seriously? It happened right after this? I picked up my Bible and looked. Sure enough, right in the next few verses. Of course, God lets Elijah spend some time training his replacement. Then he takes Elijah directly to heaven! I'm pretty sure he didn't–doesn't–mind his retirement at all! In fact, I even think I know what he talked to Jesus about, on the Mount of Transfiguration.
But that's just me. It just makes me want to pay attention. Am I, in my God-given roles, whatever they may be, careful to pay attention, to speak to people in God's behalf, and to speak to God in people's behalf? Because when we can't do that anymore, we should just retire.